The day free speech died to protect Colonel Blimp

April 26, 2015

So this ANZAC weekend, what did you do?

dardenellesDid you go down to your local war memorial and fondly remember great-grandfathers, grandmothers and other relatives who died in a senseless slaughter 100 years ago?

Did you march proudly, wearing the medals of your ancestors, because these brave men and women are the only reason we are free today?

Did you, like I did, try to shield yourself from the nationalistic pomp and the idiotic rantings of our Prime Minister?

Did you cringe at the jingoism, the unthinking patriotism and crass commercialism that now defines ANZAC day?

Or did you, like the free speech fundamentalists and Abbott apologists, take time from your orgy of bloody celebration of war, to call for a young journalist to be sacked for daring to question the ANZAC myth?

Yes, unfortunately the dogwhistling from the feral NewsCorpse bunker caused SBS management to buckle and sack Scott McIntyre within 24 hours. There was no due process, no inquiry, no chance for Scott to defend himself.

But what exactly was McIntyre’s offence?

Read the rest of this entry »


Statement on Charlie Hebdo

January 10, 2015

It is always sad to witness the murder of journalists. Killing the messenger is never a solution if you don’t like the message.

The murder of 10 Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists by Islamic extremists was a violent hate crime with no justification.

The perpetrators of this outrage seek to clothe themselves in the garb of Islam and claimed to carry out the murders in the cause of defending the Prophet.

They failed in that aim.

Instead, all that the murderers have achieved is to strengthen the resolve of Western powers to prosecute their own war on the people of Aghanistan, Syria and Iraq.

Intensifying the US-led bombing raids (in which Australia is a willing participant) against Da’esh or pouring more Western military aid into the hands of illegitimate governments in Yemen and the Arabian peninsula, will not reduce the threat of further attacks like that against the French satirical magazine.

Only three things are certain as a result of the Charlie Hebdo incident:

1. Western governments will use it as an excuse to continue prosecuting the so-called “War on Terror”, which, by all reasonable accounts is an abject failure and the major cause of increased terrorist attacks inside Western nations

2. Despite all the moralistic outrage gushing from the pages of Western newspapers and dripping from the lips of Western politicians our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly and our freedom of thought will be further curtailed by the so-called guardians of liberty.

3. The hypocrisy of those in the West now calling for the re-publication of some of Charlie Hebdo’s more racist and vilifying cartoon front pages will know no boundaries; but they will pretend it doesn’t exist.

Charlie Hebdo was no saint. But satire alone is not a defence for racism and misogyny

Charlie Hebdo was no saint. But satire alone is not a defence for racism and misogyny

I will attempt to explain these three points quickly and then link to some of the better commentary on the issue.

Read the rest of this entry »


Delusional free speech fundamentalists all on the same [racist] page

March 30, 2014

There are two certainties about the Weekend Australian that make a weekly reading of it a tiresome duty.

1. The newspaper propaganda sheet is tireless and relentless in pursuit of the shibboleths that occupy the increasingly erratic thoughts of Chairman Murdoch

2. The pervasive groupthink emanating from the  News Limited bunkers like the smell of a slow death, displays a remarkably consistent level of paranoia, delusion and editorial agreement among the chief journalists and writers propagandists.

Nowhere are these certainties more likely to reveal themselves than in the fevered attention the editor and his minions are throwing at the supposed attack on free speech posed by Section 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act. News Limited’s considerable, yet unprofitable editorial resources are being lavished on support for George “right to be a bigot” Brandis in his campaign to make it OK to be a racist in 21st century Australia.

In The Weekend Australian 29-30 March 2014 there are no less than six pieces supporting the campaign to have the ‘Bolt’ amendment passed in Parliament.

That alone is an indictment of their bleating claims that debate is being shut down and that 18C has a chilling effect on free speech. These dribblejaws are able to prosecute their case freely and at great length with the support of an editorial and acres of newsprint.

The only issue I have is that it is not a debate as such in the pages of the Weekend Australian. It is all one way traffic, it is propaganda without answer. Perhaps it is wishful thinking to argue that a newspaper that claims to take freedom of speech and debate so seriously would allow an oppositional voice. But hey, it is the party news organ of the coalition, so I won’t be so fucking stupid. How about you?

Read the rest of this entry »


Down the memory hole part 1: Repeat a lie long enough someone will believe it

July 25, 2012

The Armstrong Delusion

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed because they’ve been quite subtle, but whoever writes editorials for The Australian doesn’t like the idea that there should be some responsibility and accountability in the news media — particularly when it comes to News Limited papers.

I have collected more than a dozen editorials from The Australian that relate to media regulation, the Finkelstein and Convergence Review recommendations and the war on free speech that is currently crushing the news media. I have a pile of op-ed pieces 20 centimetres high and I’m slowly piecing together the story of the memory hole and the big lie.

It is impossible to include everything in one post because it is necessary to constantly check the facts. Big lies work through repetition and by relying on the assumption that no one will check the history and correct the record.

But I am working on a book about journalism ethics at the moment and a second one on freedom of speech so this is a research exercise. I am happy to share as I go along.

The memory hole is the device used in Orwell’s 1984. Winston Smith is obliged to correct (redact and edit) editions of The Times on behalf of the Inner Party. Whenever he corrects a piece of copy — usually because of some previous lie that now needs to be altered — the old story and all his working notes are sent to a furnace in the vast apparatus of the state. The offending materials are dispatched down the memory hole.

In the walls of the cubicle there were three orifices. To the right of the speakwrite, a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. Similar slits existed in thousands or tens of thousands throughout the building, not only in every room but at short intervals in every corridor. For some reason they were nicknamed memory holes. When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about, it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in, whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.

George Orwell, 1984

The Australian and its free speech absolutist supporters are relying on the memory hole to erase any idea that there might be some value in media accountability and light touch regulation.

Read the rest of this entry »


The beginning of the end for the Press Council?

December 10, 2011

Some interesting news this week of a new organisation set up to represent newspaper publishers.

THE country’s four major newspaper publishers have formed a new venture, the Newspaper Works, to give the industry a united voice on a range of issues from environmental sustainability to collecting readership data.

Under the new banner, the publishers at Fairfax Media, News Ltd, Seven West Media and APN News & Media have the scope to discuss, comment and set collective policies to make the sector more efficient for advertisers and readers.

I can’t help but wonder if this is not a precursor to something else – the break-up, or perhaps the assassination – of the Australian Press Council.

In the past few weeks the Finkelstein inquiry has been getting an ear-bashing from old-school newspaper types objecting to the kite-flying proposal to give the Press Council more teeth and some government funding.
All along Ray Finkelstein has been raising this possibility as a solution to the vexed question of how to enforce greater accountability for errors and egregious attacks while maintaining the cloak of respectability (invisibility?) that comes with the pretence of full ‘independence’.

In Perth a few days ago, this hefty swing from West Australian Newspapers group editor-in-chief Bob Cronin smashed the government support delivery out of the ground:

“My concern is that in recent times, rather than dealing harshly with egregious errors, the council has become a cudgel with which zealots, bigots, academics and despotic politicians are able to beat newspapers which dare to depart from their view of the world.”
My colleague Professor Mark Pearson of Bond University and one of Australia’s leading media law academics also poured cold water on the Finkelstein idea. It seems, at least from this report, that they had a fairly terse exchange of views.

ANY attempt to force a newspaper to publish a judgment from a government-funded body would send a message that the Australian government does not believe in freedom of the press, a leading media law researcher has warned. Mark Pearson, professor of journalism at Bond University and the Australian correspondent for Reporters Sans Frontieres, was speaking at the final day of public hearings for the government’s media inquiry.

Chairman and former Federal Court judge Ray Finkelstein QC asked Professor Pearson what he thought of the notion of a levy-funded regulatory body with the power to order newspapers to publish Press Council-style judgments.

“Two out of three of the major members of the Press Council have told me they will refuse to provide any more funding,” Mr Finkelstein said. “So what do I do?”

But in a robust exchange of views Professor Pearson argued that any such body would be

viewed as an instrument of government regulation and would be at odds with any editor’s view of their role. “The notion of the fourth estate is a residual idea, it is much more than a commercial ethic. It is part of an editor’s sense of fierce independence from a government-funded body.”

Mr Finkelstein argued with Professor Pearson that a levy-funded body could be different.

“It is still a government institution,” Professor Pearson replied and said no editor or publisher would support it.

“Without freedom of expression embodied in a constitution or bill of rights, it would send a message to the international community that the Australian government wants to force its will on media organisations.”

Professor Pearson said he questioned any need for a new regulatory body when the Press Council did its job “reasonably well” and that all it lacked was community education of its process.

He also questioned the cost of the inquiry, estimating it as more than $1 million.

“So what, so what?” Mr Finkelstein said, glaring at him.

“I don’t object to government funding, but I do object to the regulatory regime,” Professor Pearson said.

Earlier, Mr Finkelstein had remarked that he was starting to understand the way editors thought: “Judges don’t like being told what to do and I have the feeling editors are like judges.”

The inquiry was also told publishers could benefit from the advice of an “integrity”authority.

[Nick Leys – The  Australian – 9 December]

I don’t agree with all of Pearson’s remarks, but in general he’s right – publishers have given a strong signal that they don’t like the idea of government ‘interference’ in their self-regulation (mutual stroking) regime.

But Mark is mistaken in his view about the links between ‘freedom of expression’ in a bill of rights type instrument and the freedom of the press being threatened by government ‘forcing its will’ on media organisations.

This idea is based on a flawed – but widely held view – that individual humans and giant media corporations are the same thing in the eyes of the law and that they have the same ‘rights’. I say this is bullshit.

Giant media corporations are legal entities (firms or companies) established for the benefit of shareholders. Their whole reason for being is to make money – profits – and to distribute this to shareholders.

Why should something – the media company in this case – which is founded on the principle of private profit be extended what is fundamentally a human right – the right of free expression.

What the legal fiction of equality before the law does in this instance is give licence to the private ownership of this right to speech.

The ‘right’ to freedom of expression should not reside with the media company; it actually belongs to the people and, as our political representatives – working to the public interest – governments technically and morally have a right to intercede on our behalf to ensure that corporations act in the public interest.

This is not going to happen, the force of the (broken) market will ensure that capital is free to exploit and expropriate and also to continue speaking with forked tongue on freedom of speech.

I am working on a major research piece that will elucidate my arguments more clearly. That will be available early in the new year.

Season’s greetings

This is my last post for 2011. I am having yet another round of hand surgery on Tuesday next – the dreaded ‘Viking disease‘ – and will be in a cast for three weeks.

I hope you have a safe and fun silly season where ever you are in the world. As a level 7 aetheist I offer a secular greeting – “cheers”.


Free speech, vilification and the Herald Sun editorial

September 30, 2011

The Herald Sun editorial defending Andrew Bolt against Federal Court ruling that he breached provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act argues that the offending columns were justified.

In the second paragraph the editorial “maintains” the view that:

What Bolt wrote in this newspaper and online was not based on race, but on the way race was used by those who took such offence. (‘Free speech vital to society’  12011)

This is a semantic point that twists the argument to suggest that the actions of those who claimed to be offended, insulted, intimidated and humiliated by Bolt’s comments are themselves racist.

In the fifth par the editorial insists the paper was right to publish Bolt’s comments:

We say [publication] was [justifiable] and if it is the interpretation of he law that comes into question, then it is the law that should be changed.

This is a key turning point in the argument, which sets up the HWT defence that the unfettered principle of free speech must trump a law, which attempts to curtail it.

The following paragraph makes a stab at defining free speech in this context:

A key measure of a mature society is the ability to publicly discuss unpopular views without fear, no matter how distasteful they are to some of us, and to follow this discussion with vigorous public debate.

But this case was not about tasteful or distasteful comments. It was about the deliberate denigration and traducing of nine individuals based only on their ethnic identity.  The HWT justification on this point seems to imply that anything goes in the freedom of speech stakes. This takes no account of the public benefit and public interest in having a legal means to curtail hateful, hurtful and inflammatory propaganda. Any society that wants to call itself democratic and civilized will have legislative and legal provisions preventing racist speech. There is no right to freedom of speech that involves racial or other defamation based on stereotyping, misconceptions, deliberately deceptive arguments. There is no right to free speech if the aim of that speech is to encourage others to action – even if that action (at this point) is merely an invitation to share such views.

On this point the Herald Sun editorial spins itself a very tight web, but unfortunately it appears caught in the clever strands of its own faulty logic:

This has very much been a trial of freedom of speech [sic]. Those who complained had he opportunity to put forward their own views. They were offered equal space on these pages, but sought to silence Bolt on the subject of the social consequences of their choice to identify as Aboriginal. (‘Free speech vital to society’  12011)

I cannot, at this point, offer an opinion on whether or not the complainants were offered and refused a chance to respond in the paper. However, I can observe that this would not necessarily have been in the plaintiff’s best interests. The only possible outcome I could see would be to add fuel to the fire Bolt was attempting to ignite with an explosion of feigned moral outrage. If I had been advising the nine my recommendation would have been not to engage with Bolt in the pages of his own newspaper. Bolt has previous form in these matters and he would know that anything the accused put forward in their defence would be used to further inflame the mob rule atmosphere that demagogues thrive in.

But on the last line “the social consequences of their choice to identify as Aboriginal” I can surmise that the irony of this comment is lost on the editorialist. One of the social consequences the plaintiffs had to endure was the vilification and opprobrium heaped on them by Andrew Bolt in his offending columns and by his legion of ill-informed fans who lap up his diatribes.

 

, ‘Free speech vital to society’ 12011, Herald Sun, 29 September, Editorial.

 

 


‘Free speech’ …the last defence of cowards and scoundrels

September 30, 2011

Freedom of speech is not freedom to say whatever you like, whenever you want about anything you please.

It’s not OK to use the pages of a newspaper or the bandwidth of a blog to defame and vilify people.

That’s why Herald Sun propagandist Andrew Bolt is crying crocodile tears over the Federal Court ruling that found he breached the Racial Discrimination Act in a 2009 column attacking so-called “light-skinned” Aborigines for – as Bolt would have it – milking the system to the detriment of “real” Aboriginal people.

Of course Bolt plays to his audience of dribblejaws. He stokes their prejudice and fans the flames of intolerance and white Australian grumpiness by simplifying his argument to the point of nonsense and focusing his attacks on the easy targets he knows will excite and agitate the usual suspects among dedicated Herald Sun readers.

He knows his coded racism will also act as dog whistle politics to those on the right fringes of Australia’s underbelly who see Bolt as some Glenn Beck-like messiah of salvation for that small-minded minority of Australian bigots who want a return to the days of the White Australia policy.

That’s why Bolt is a propagandist, not a journalist, not a columnist. He uses his position of influence to deliberately rake over these political coals attempting to catch a spark of righteous indignation.

That’s why Bolt deserved to go down in the Federal Court this week.

But of course, for a seasoned campaigner like Bolt, victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat. In the Murdoch press war rooms up and down the east coast of Australia the planning included how to respond if Bolt lost his defence.

The editorials were already pencilled in and already paid-for tame opinionistas were phoned and told to sharpen their vitriolic pens ready to do battle on behalf of the Bolter.

One such is Gary Johns writing in The Australian. He returns to Bolt’s theme in an attempt to shore up the wrong argument that ‘free speech’ has been wounded by the Federal Court’s decision.

“The provisions of the act used to silence Bolt are bad law.”

Well, actually Bolt hasn’t been silenced – he had three pages to himself in the Herald Sun the day after the Federal Court decision and plenty of air time. No doubt he’ll come back to this on his TV platform too.

And the Racial Discrimination Act is not bad law. It is designed to prevent institutionalised and indiscriminate discrimination against those who have been historically and consistently marginalised in this still whiter-than-white nation.

What’s more surprising is that this is the first time the RDA has been used successfully against Bolt. He is a familiar face when it comes to racially-motivated diatribes against ‘difference’. Muslims and others have been targets before and will be in the future.

Johns’ defence of Bolt also revisits the ideas behind Bolt’s original offending pieces — that the group of nine who were named (and those like them) are light-skinned but identify as Aborigines “because there are public benefits in so identifying”.

This is the exact same defamatory imputation that Bolt made. It implies that this group chooses to identify as Aboriginal because they can milk the public purse by so doing.

As others have pointed out, Bolt’s words, phrases and meanings carried clearly defamatory imputations. His use of words like “official”, “political” and “professional” “white Aborigines” appear to knowingly damage the reputations of the people named in his columns.

More importantly, any defence Bolt might have to accusations of defamatory speech evaporate because he got even basic facts about his targets wrong. He wrote about one complainant that she had a white, German father. Problem was, Larissa Behrendt’s dad was an Aboriginal man.

When looking at this case over the past two days (I was living in New Zealand during 2009 when events happened and had not at that time read Bolt’s columns) I came to the same conclusion as David Marr:

Perhaps the Herald Sun and Bolt should be thanking their lucky stars not to be facing nine separate defamation trials.

[Freedom of Speech rides on – David Marr, SMH 29/9/11]

Yep, lucky that the nine complainants chose to use the Racial Discrimination Act where the test for harm is actually harder to pass than in defamation actions. The RDA contains a clause that explicitly defends freedom of speech when offensive speech is used “reasonably and in good faith”.

In the Federal Court it was proven that Bolt had not acted reasonably, or in good faith. He had knowingly used offensive speech for an explicit political purpose. To promote the myth of black privilege and to use this lie to incite hatred of his targets.

What Bolt and Johns fail to mention — though they both know it all too well — is that there is also public pain in identifying as Aboriginal in Australia. Just ask any dark-skinned Aborigine living in poverty and subject to daily racism anywhere in the country.

The myth of so-called black privilege is trotted out incessantly by the likes of Bolt – the cultural warriors who would do anything and say anything to carry out their jihad against “the left”.

These professional reputation killers know that they cannot muster any argument based on logic or rational attention to fact, so they make shit up and pander to the most base of prejudice in a small section of the community to rally the troops.

And the proof of this is in the Federal Court decision itself: Bolt got stuff wrong, he didn’t carry out basic journalistic checks on his sources (most of which were from a Google search), but found enough rubbish circulating in cyberspace to bolster his weak argument.

The judge also rightly skewers Bolt for being “intent on arguing a case”, but not making a “diligent attempt” to get the facts right.

Bolt doesn’t deny this point, but he won’t apologise or admit his mistakes to his acolytes and foot soldiers. To do so would expose as another lie the image he wants to present of himself as a martyred victim of political correctness gone wrong.

Johns tries to argue that Bolt has been prevented from discussing issues of what has become “cultural identity” in common parlance. But any honest reading of the Federal Court decision shows clearly that Judge Mordecai Bromberg explicity and rightly rejects this idea.

“In finding against [Bolt & the Herald Sun] I have taken into account the value of freedom of expression and the silencing consequences of finding a contravenion…Given the serious of the conduct involved, the silencing consequences appears to me to be justified…An expression of identity is itself an expression that freedom of expression serves to protect. That expression also derserves to be considered and valued.”

So the principle of free speech has consequences for those who choose to exercise it without due care and who knowingly claim the principle to defend wrong actions. But this point is not recognised by Bolt and his cheer squad.

In his defence of Bolt, Gary Johns intones the holy grail of the propagandist: “nothing is more sacred than free speech.”

This quasi-religious phrase is the last refuge of the coward and the scoundrel. Free speech is of course an important principle in any democratic society, but it is not the most sacred principle that a democratic society should uphold.

More important is a commitment to truth and to principles of common humanity and a commitment to fight racism and prejudice in all forms.

Bolt makes mealy-mouthed appeals to such principles as a sop to his base of supporters. He doesn’t really give a fuck. He is a paid propagandist and a mouthpiece for all that is vile and wrong in Australia today.

He should really just admit it, put on the black, shiny uniform and frog march his way into the history books.

Bye bye Bolter, I for one won’t miss you when you go.


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